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We have been buying and comparing ski pants for the last 8 years, having tested 46 pairs along the way. This review covers 12 of the best ski pants available, based on in-depth testing in wintery ski climates from Jackson Hole to Lake Tahoe to the Colorado Rockies. Sometimes the powder gods delivered, and other times we made tracks on corduroy. The ideal ski pants should function to fit comfortably, keep you dry, vent excess heat, keep you warm on the lifts, and have handy features, all while offering style points, preferably. We score each pair on these merits, resulting in a detailed assessment to guide you to your next pair.
The Arc'teryx Sabre AR is a formidable hardshell pant that we recommend to anyone who skies frequently enough to justify their high price. These pants assemble top-shelf materials like Gore-Tex, waterproof zippers, and sealed seams to produce a waterproof and durable shelter from inclement weather. They excel at everything from long days charging at the resort to posh cocktail bars in Aspen. Their 3-layer shell construction with a brushed fleece lining is unique in the market and very comfortable. They fit like a glove and ventilate well, making them suitable for backcountry skiing in addition to resort riding.
We recognize that not everyone needs such an expensive and high-performing ski pant, and there are plenty of other options that come close to matching the Sabre AR's performance at a much lower price. The brushed fleece insulation is barely noticeable, so they aren't super warm, though most skiers prefer to layer underneath their ski pants anyway. But if you're willing to fork over the cash, these pants are excellent, and they'll last a long time. In short, they are the total package in a pair of ski pants.
The North Face Freedom Insulated Pants are the best bargain on the market. They are highly weather resistant, warm, durable, and stylish. And they do it all for a fraction of the price of the Arc'teryx Sabre AR. If you're looking for a great pair of pants for almost any day of the ski season, these are a bargain that gets the job done, and then some. Across the board, they perform adequately for most needs at the resort while looking and feeling great.
Our primary issue with the Freedom Pants is that the pockets and some seams are unsealed. The main lower leg seams are taped, but the pocket and vent zippers are not waterproof. The seams that secure these zippers are not waterproof either. This will not be a concern for most casual skiers, but for hardcore chargers and everyday users like ski instructors and patrollers, we'd opt for a completely weatherproof alternative. None of the pants with fully sealed seams and waterproof zippers are as affordable as the Freedom Insulated.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II is a hardshell pant that uses a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane to keep wind and water out. With sealed seams and waterproof zippers, it has great weather resistance, and the material is stretchy and more comfortable to wear than any other hardshell pant. It has plenty of pockets to make life at the resort easy, as well as a useful avalanche transceiver pocket that adds versatility for backcountry skiing and riding. But perhaps our favorite attribute is how well ventilated these pants are, with two long outside thigh vents and astonishingly breathable fabric.
As a shell pant, they don't provide any warmth, and the breathable fabric means that warm air escapes easily. They don't have a refined, contoured fit, which means they end up baggy in the thighs and crotch for some users, and look straight and boxy. We also aren't huge fans of the color options. But these minor gripes are all we have to complain about here. These shell pants are an excellent, more affordable choice for anyone who doesn't want to compromise on performance.
Insulated ski pants can't offer the same versatility as their uninsulated brethren. Some skiers prefer cozy built-in insulation, but the market trend is towards very light insulation or hardshell-only designs. Some skiers do opt for a second pair of insulated pants on the coldest of days. For those searching for an insulated pair to fill their "pant quiver," the Spyder Dare GTX is our top choice. These pants are warm, comfortable, and fit very well. Despite being thick due to their insulation, we didn't experience any drawbacks in our range of motion. The weather resistance is great, minus one minor drawback mentioned below. The racer style isn't for everyone, but we have to concede that in certain contexts, it looks good.
We have some minor issues with the venting (we prefer externally located vents for maximum airflow — those on the Dare are along the inseam). But, these are designed for cold days when you're unlikely to want to give up any heat. Also, we wish all of the pockets were waterproof. Overall, though, these are our favorite insulated pants for skiing that we have tested in a while. When it gets super cold, the Spyder Dare is our go-to model.
For us, finding the best pair of ski pants begins with considerable market research, which eventually yielded the top models discussed here. Testing was largely done in the field at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Arapahoe Basin, Kicking Horse, and backcountry trips in the Tetons. We tested each pair of pants in different climates, from windy Sierra storms to frigid, clear days in Jackson Hole. We often took one run per day in each pair, changing pants in the gondola between runs to get comparable side-by-side comparisons between the products. Since we can't always count on rain during the testing period, we observed each pair's water resistance by wearing them in the shower for 5 minutes and checking for water penetration. Throughout the testing process, we paid attention to important attributes like warmth, ventilation, comfort, and features.
Our ski pants testing is divided across six different metrics:
Weather Resistance (25% of overall score weighting)
Fit and Comfort (25% weighting)
Ventilation (20% weighting)
Warmth (10% weighting)
Features (10% weighting)
Style (10% weighting)
Our test team was led by Mountain Guide, avalanche forecaster, and OutdoorGearLab Contributor Jeff Dobronyi. Jeff lives, skis, and guides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of the coldest and snowiest places in the country. He skis almost every day of the winter, only taking days off when his legs are begging for a break. Jeff's gear has to work day in and day out because he puts it through the wringer, both recreationally and professionally. These demands and years of experience make him an informed and discerning judge of ski apparel.
Analysis and Test Results
We ask a lot from our ski and snowboarding pants. They need to resist wind, snow, and maybe even rain. They should be comfortable, fashionable, and durable. On top of all that, they need to provide versatility for all the conditions winter might throw at us. We assess each model on these key performance areas and discuss the best performances below.
Our selection of pants covers a huge price range, from budget options to pants that command a serious premium. The good news is that there is great value to be found in many of the less-expensive options. Except in the gnarliest of weather, the least expensive products we tested perform adequately at the resort. Weather resistance is what really sets the more expensive products apart. To fully guard against every drop of water, every snowflake, and every whisper of wind, well-sealed pants almost always cost more. The more expensive products also feature durability improvements, increased ventilation, fashion upgrades, and general refinement. That said, all of the pants in this review will protect against most weather that you encounter on the slopes, and the extra features and style found in the more expensive options are nice additions, but not necessary.
We found the greatest value per dollar in the The North Face Freedom Insulated pants, which are a warm, well-fitting, and comfortable pair of pants that are a bargain, considering that they feel like pants that go for twice the price. The REI Powderbound Insulated pants also provide warmth, moderate weather resistance, and useful features for a rock bottom price. The Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II provides good value if you are in the market for a backcountry-specific softshell pant. It has plenty of features, great comfort, awesome breathability, and a decent fit, at a price that is much lower than top-of-the-line options. If you are looking for a pair of affordable bibs, the Outdoor Research Carbide performs nearly as well as the top products, but at a much lower price.
Weather resistance is our top priority when evaluating ski pants. This attribute is a function of both the shell fabric and garment design. All the pants we tested have adequate, weather-resistant outer fabrics for bluebird day usage, and many feature completely waterproof fabrics. However, the fabric is meaningless without thoughtful design.
Pants must have separate and tight inner powder cuffs, protected zippers and flaps, and a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish. This DWR is what makes water "bead" on the surface of the fabric. It blocks light weather and keeps the face fabric dry. This is important for weather protection, but it also ensures that the fabric laminate remains breathable.
If you spend a lot of time skiing in stormy weather, the Backcountry Cardiac bibs are some of the most protective pants money can buy. In addition to the impenetrable Gore-Tex membranes, waterproof zippers, and sealed seams of other protective pants, these bibs are like waterproof overalls that keep all weather on the outside where it belongs. They eliminate the waist opening, which is a major weak point in weather-resistant ski clothing systems. Bibs are hands down the most protective ski pants. The Arc'teryx Sabre AR, Flylow Baker Bibs, and OR Carbide Bibs also supply excellent protection.
Some pants in our review forego waterproof technology in favor of more breathable and flexible softshell fabric. These pants aren't designed to withstand stormy weather, but they still provide resistance against light weather and snow. The Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II and the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid are both softshell pants that add panels of waterproof fabric in the seat and in the lower legs to bolster weather resistance without impeding breathability, but in our experience, this addition doesn't work as advertised.
Fit and Comfort
Good ski technique is important to both our enjoyment of the sport and to reduce the risk of injury. If we can't move freely, our technique could be limited or altered, leading to less fun on the slopes and a potentially dangerous experience. Well-fitting and comfortable ski pants don't hinder our motion at all, while poorly fitting ski pants feel restrictive and limiting. Of course, fit and comfort depend on body type. Some pants feature a slim fit through the thighs and knees, while others are baggy and loose. In our experience, the perfect fitting ski pant sits somewhere right in the middle-- not too tight and not too loose. Everyone is different, so pay close attention to our photos, and see if our testers have the same body type as you. In our testing period, we were able to have multiple body types assess all the pants. We tried to test size Medium pants, but in a couple of cases, we had to return them and get size Large.
Fit goes hand in hand with comfort. A well-cut pair of pants will be more comfortable to wear because they will conform to the contours of the body. Additionally, we took fabric texture into account. Thick, stiff pants with no hanging liner, like the Flylow Baker Bib, aren't as comfy as the lighter, more flexible OR Carbide Bib or Arc'teryx Sabre AR. On the top shelf of mobility and comfort are the light, softshell fabrics of the backcountry models. They occupy an entirely different realm of comfort.
The backcountry pants in our review feel like pajamas compared to all the other options. That's a good thing because you'll spend a lot of time hiking uphill in these pants, so they need to be super comfortable. The Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II is a comfortable pair on the skin track.
Of the three-layer pants, the Arc'teryx Sabre AR and the OR Carbide Bibs are the most comfortable. These pants flex and move with body movement very well, lacking any stiff or rigid fabrics. The Flylow Chemical and Flylow Baker Bibs, in contrast, feature stiff fabric and somewhat cumbersome tailoring. The North Face Freedom Insulated and Spyder Dare pants both have synthetic insulation, which is very comfortable, although the Freedom offers a slightly looser and less constricting cut.
Each day on the ski slopes is different, from warm, sunny, and windless days to the brutally cold and stormy ones. Most skiers only own one or two pairs of ski pants, and these pants need to keep us warm on the coldest days of the season. The rest of the time, our pants may be too warm and need to be able to dissipate any excess heat from our legs into the outside atmosphere. Ideally, on the coldest days, our pants can keep all of our body heat on the inside, and on the warm days, our pants can ventilate to let some of our heat escape. Breathable, softshell fabrics let warm air escape every day of the year and aren't ideal for the coldest days. Zippered vents allow the user to choose when to let air escape and when to trap warm air inside. Some of the pants in this review are niche pants that are designed for either warm days in the spring or the coldest conditions possible, but most are somewhere in the middle.
Our testing team includes backcountry ski guides who recommend well-venting resort pants for occasional backcountry use. However, they noted that if you are an avid backcountry skier, dedicated backcountry pants are well worth the investment due to the benefits in comfort.
Most ventilation is supplied by zippered thigh vents. All of the pants we tested have vents of some sort. Vents on both the inside and outside of the thigh allow for maximum airflow. The next best are long, exterior vents with no mesh, then exterior vents with mesh. The least effective vents seem to be those that are mesh-backed and located on the inner leg. Unfortunately, this happens to be the most common ventilation scheme in our comparison. Mesh does keep some snow out, but it also inhibits airflow. We prefer no mesh, but most resort-oriented pants include mesh to guard the vents. If you ride hot and tumble a lot, mesh-lined vents are probably a good option.
The Flylow Baker Bibs, Flylow Chemical, and Backcountry Cardiac Bibs earn special mention because of their inner and outer leg vents. These pants provide the best ventilation of the waterproof pant options. Dual vents on each leg create a swirling flow of air that not only goes across but also travels up and down the legs inside the pants. No other pants in our review have two vents on each leg.
The long, mesh-free vents of the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II and Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid are super effective. These pants utilize softshell fabric, which is much more breathable than even the most ventilated hardshell pants. Even though the Flylow models offer greater airflow, the backcountry-specific models dump heat more effectively overall to provide the most ventilation of any pants in the test bunch.
Among the rest, the long vents on the Arc'teryx Sabre AR and OR Carbide provide adequate ventilation for resort and backcountry use. The North Face Freedom Insulated and Spyder Dare vents are located on the leg's interior and have a mesh backing. These provided the least amount of air exchange and heat dumping in our trial period.
Just like in all cold-weather clothing, insulation matters. It is important to note, however, that most skiers give little thought to their pants' insulation because our lower bodies aren't as sensitive to cold as our upper bodies. In cold conditions, layering underneath usually works best. So we tested for warmth but didn't put a great deal of weight on this metric. The warmest pants in our test are the Spyder Dare and the Freedom Insulated.
Our favorite insulated pant is the Spyder Dare. This product performed highly in the warmth metric while also remaining relatively comfortable and weather resistant. When skiing in truly frigid conditions, we would reach for the Dare pants over the others. That said, they are too warm for most days at milder ski destinations.
Pants like the Patagonia Snowshot with "2-layer" construction offer just the right amount of warmth for most ski resort conditions in the US. Separate from the outer shell is a hanging lining, either mesh or fleece. The air space between the fabric layers adds just a touch of warmth without tipping them into "too hot" status.
The shell-only ("three-layer") pants like the Flylow Chemical Snow Pants and Flylow Gear Baker Bibs have the least insulation. The Arc'teryx Sabre AR is made with a three-layer construction, but the inner layer is fuzzy. This adds enough warmth to simulate the insulation value of the "two-layer" pants with three-layer construction.
Backcountry pants and warmth require some further discussion. Backcountry skiing is both warmer (when going uphill) and colder (in the event of even a minor emergency with no lodge available) than regular resort skiing. We bring extra layers for emergencies, and we choose our primary ski pants for the uphill portion. Backcountry ski-specific pants are not nearly as warm as resort pants, for a good reason. The OR Tralbreaker II pants are made with a thick softshell fabric and are generally warm enough for most conditions while also dumping heat effectively when needed.
Important features are integrated belts, pockets, key or pass clips, and Recco technology. None of these features are make-or-break attributes, but a full set of features makes a good pair of pants even better.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II has some of the best features in our review. It has tons of pockets in convenient locations, with waterproof zippers on all exposed pockets. It also includes an avalanche transceiver sleeve in the right waist pocket with a plastic clip for the beacon. This particular feature is becoming common in shell pants, which is a trend we appreciate.
We now look for a clip or tether located inside a pocket to attach an avalanche transceiver for backcountry-specific models. This allows the transceiver to be worn in a pocket, which is how most backcountry skiers prefer to wear their beacons, compared to the traditional chest harness. The beacon pocket is located in the right handwarmer pocket in the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II and Carbide Bib.
Style is subjective. However, some rules generally apply. Many skiers prefer pants that blend in with the crowd and use their jackets to make a fashion statement. But if you end up at the watering hole at the end of the day, you'll probably take your jacket off, in which case your pants will be the centerpiece of your look. Furthermore, anyone who has ever skied at a resort knows a ton of thought that goes into the overall look of a ski get-up. And really, it's a shame to spend so much money on a pair of pants that look terrible.
Ski pants don't need to look like anything other than ski pants. You will likely own fewer ski pants than you do ski jackets. Choose your colors carefully. It is tempting to go for one of the colorful pants available, but this limits your jacket selection. If you mix and match jackets, grey or black pants are traditionally the most versatile. But nowadays, ski pants come in a variety of muted colors that branch out from the norms, like khaki and navy blue. Some products are still available in brighter colors, but not all.
Fit is also an important component of style. A baggy fit is fading in popularity. Snowboarders can get away with more "sag" and extra fabric, given that their legs remain a fixed distance apart. Skiers require a greater range of motion. Backcountry users, whether on skis or snowboards, need even more range of motion than skiers at the resort.
Highlighting these style changes, the Arc'teryx Sabre AR has slimmed down in the years we have been testing. The latest iteration has a closer fit than its ancestors without losing mobility. The North Face Freedom Insulated pants are the most neutral pants in our review, and they look great. The Flylow Baker Bibs are a tad loose for our liking, but many skiers and riders prefer the baggy look.
It can be a daunting task to select the perfect pair of ski pants. With the many options available, how do you choose? Weather resistance, comfort, and durability are the most important factors for most skiers, but style and features are also important to some. There is a good pair of pants for every budget. Having the right pair of ski pants can make or break a trip. Our recommendations here will help you maximize your fun on the slopes.
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